Volker Hildebrandt: “I love You”.

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All you need is love. Love is all around you. And love is around the corner. Turn on the radio, zap through hundreds of TV channels, open a novel or have a look at the front page of any tabloid. It’s all about love. It’s the stuff we live off. Love is at the core of all things, at best the reason we’re born, the base of all our strivings, and the source of all good art.

Everybody has experienced it, in this way or that, either a lot of it or just the tiniest bit. Being social creatures, a part of all of us longs to love or be loved. Almost everyone has said it to another person: “I love you”. Even children do it, and one is never too old to fall in love. Love is what connects us more strongly with each other than anything else. Expressing one’s love to someone can be the most individual and deepest thing to say. Through the concept of love, we convey our complete affection to someone or something we are attached to. So the way these words are uttered reveals more about the speaker than about the one they are said to. In these words, the individual and the social intersect.
And yet, “I love you” are indeed the most banal words ever, endlessly humming around the globe without leaving a lasting impression, softly overpowering possible different concepts of social relations. On the contrary, love seems emptied of all of its meaning. “I love you” can be heard endlessly in shallow love songs, TV soap-operas, on stage and at the pictures, so that these words rather entail mere dreams and illusions than they have to do with reality. “I love you” became the most popular phrase ever. It is something to say in exchange for sex, money, pleasure, or power. Or just to fill the silence and emptiness in and around us. However, its inescapable presence bespeaks the fundamental need for something called love.

Cologne-based media artist Volker Hildebrandt in his appealing new art project explores both the omnipresence of saying “I love you” and its highly individual character. Everyone is invited to speak these words in his or her native language in front of a digital camera and upload the results on the artist’s website www.loveprototo.com, “the home of love for a world of love”. One after another, those taking part simply say the words “I love you”. The serial character of Hildebrandt’s piece reflects the never ending story of love and  the shape of our mediated experience of this emotion. The long row of love-tellers attest both to the viral power of love and the white noise of its meaningless reiteration. What is the individual content of the phrase? What does it reveal about the speaker? How are cultural standards encoded? Ideas of romantic love exist in almost all cultures around the world, but do the words “I love you” really carry the same meaning everywhere around the world? How do similarities and differences become visible? And finally: what has love got to do with art?

In his long search for a universally valid form (e.g. the phenomenon of ‘Bildstoerung’ which contains all possible pictures), Volker Hildebrandt finally found a mode that can be used as individually and homogenously as possible. Picasso once said: for me, there is only love. Basically, we are all equipped to recognize love when we come across it. That’s why you don’t need to know anything about art to understand this piece of art – or in fact any art. Every human being can participate in this “social sculpture” (Joseph Beuys) and become both the author and the subject of the art project. Make a contribution and add some love to the world. Or just have a smile on your face while watching more people than ever saying to you: “I love you”.

No matter what: Just spread the love.

Text: Susanne Buckesfeld